January 11, 1912, The Evening Post: New York, Page 1, Column 5,
"$200,000,000 IS TAKEN OUT,"
ENTRANCE EFFECTED TO STEEL VAULTS UNDER RUINS.
Walls of Equitable Building Still Bulging, but Authorities Allow Cars to Run Down Broadway—Firemen Work in Wreckage—Walsh's Body Not Found, but the Search Goes On.
Contrary to expectations, there was no trouble in entering the Mercantile Trust Company's vaults on the first floor of the burned Equitable building this afternoon, and within two hours locksmiths had given the officers of the company the opportunity to remove $200,000,000 worth of stocks and bonds, all absolutely undamaged by fire or water.
Wall Street and the financial district generally heard this news with relief, while the crowds watching the operations outside the fire lines soon realized that the grocery carts waiting at the curb outside the ice-draped ruins were carrying fortunes, instead of vegetables. The little tin security boxes were piled in orderly rows in the spaces behind the driver's seats ---millions and tens of millions of paper in each wagon. It was said that the deep basement vaults of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company would not be entered for three or four days
While the wagons drew up in Pine Street, just around the corner from Broadway, and tacked up to a side door under orders from the men superintending the removal of the securities, a strong force of police stood around, though there were comparatively few persons in the immediate neighborhood. As each wagon drove off, a group of patrolmen marched on each flank and behind. Most of the wagons were shabby affairs.
It had not been expected by any except the most optimistic that the securities would be reached before to-night. In fact, the secretary of the Stock Exchange posted the statement shortly after the opening of business, extending to Monday the time limit for delivery of securities involved in the fire. In the afternoon it looked as if the suspension of deliveries would be terminated within the next few hours.
WALLS BULGE, BUT STAND.
After a careful examination of the bulging walls of the Equitable building, the city authorities decided that it would be safe to allow the resumption of service by the Broadway surface cars. Engineers of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, who tested the walls of the subway, running almost underneath the wrecked building, said it would be safe to continue to run underground trains, although it was possible that the Interborough might decide later to ask for permission to build a roof of cross ties over Broadway, thus conflicting with the street car service.
That the danger of the wrecked building's collapse was by no means at an end was proved, however, by the refusal of the police and firemen to allow any tenants to remain in the sixteen-story skyscraper of the American Exchange National Bank, across the way at Cedar Street and Broadway. Other buildings on the Cedar Street block between Broadway and Nassau Street were likewise barred to their occupants as a precaution.
A survey of the Equitable building's walls showed that the Broadway front was eighteen inches out of plumb, having settled backward upon the two side walls along Pine and Cedar Streets. Under the pressure of the front wall, the Cedar Street side of the building had been shoved out until it hung two feet over the sidewalk below, leaning dangerously toward the buildings on the north side of the street. The exact distortion of the Pine Street wall had not been calculated, but it was enough to cause a long, jagged crack running diagonally through several stories. Any sudden increase in temperature or the springing up of a strong gale of wind might have disastrous effects upon the tottering Equitable wreck.
EQUITABLE NOT "SEEKING SITE."
Reports that the Equitable Life Assurance Society was negotiating for a new site upon which to build a modern skyscraper home were denied by E. E. Rittenhouse, conservation commissioner of the Society. While many offers of sites and buildings had poured in, the officers had been too busy with other matters to give them any thought.
The menace in the wrecked building did not seem to effect onlookers in its neighborhood, as a matter of fact. If the Broadway crowds that pressed up to the fire lines, with all the eager curiosity that they had exhibited since the spectacle was first provided for them on Tuesday, had any appreciation of the destruction and danger involved in the collapse of the building, they failed to give indication of it. Similarly, the wreckers and street cleaners engaged in clearing the structure of ice and debris moved about their tasks without seeming to fear. The glow of their lanterns flickered about the dark recesses of the lobby, reflected from the bronze statue of Henry B. Hyde, undamaged amid all the ruin about it, and the blows of their axes and spades could be heard outside in the street.
Most of the wreckers confined their attention to the huge heap of ice and fire-eaten timbers that towered two stories above the vaults of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company, at Broadway and Cedar Street. They were severely handicapped by the condition of the building.
Through the hours that had elapsed since the fire was quenched, those in charge of the damaged building had been worried, of course, over the contents of the various vaults. They realized that there were expert robbers who would willingly risk twenty years in Sing Sing for an opportunity to get an unobstructed hour in front of one of the combinations. With such a stake as was provided by the vast securities, it stood
(Continued on Page Thirteen.)
Page 13, Column 6,
$200,000,000 IS TAKEN OUT.
to reason that no crook would mind the risk from heat or collapsing walls any more than he would mind taking the chance of being discovered by a policeman—providing, always, that the sporting chance of success was present. So the police took no chances, particularly at night. In the dark hours, when the regular fire lines had been withdrawn, squads of detectives were at all strategic positions about the building and in the vicinity of the vaults, and a most rigid guard was maintained. All outsiders were prohibited from approaching. All through to-day, as yesterday, smoke rose from the ruins and three streams of water were played into the Cedar Street side near Broadway, from the upper windows of the American National Exchange Bank building, which was cleared of tenants yesterday afternoon in anticipation of the toppling of the Equitable building's walls. This smoke came from fires deep down in the cellars under the building, where the broken gas mains, which had been ignited Tuesday morning, still flared unchecked.
W. M. Bassett, vice-president of the American Exchange National Bank, received this afternoon the following from the superintendent of buildings:
"I have no objection to your occupying that building, as I consider the condition of the walls of the Equitable building to the South as not in sufficiently dangerous a condition as to vacate the premises, No. 136 Broadway. I can therefore see no objection to your occupying the building.*
When the odor of gas became as strong yesterday as to be discernible out in Broadway, the Consolidated Gas Company was notified, and last night a number of inspectors, together with a gang of laborers, uncovered the two mains feeding the pipes of the building. One of these mains next to Liberty street and Broadway, was eight inches in diameter; the other, sixteen inches in diameter, was at Pine Street and Broadway. When they were uncovered a stop was inserted in each, and shortly before [ ] o'clock in the morning the Fire Department was notified that no more gas could come into the building. But notwithstanding these precautions, there still was some fire in the cellars that afternoon.
WALSH'S BODY NOT FOUND.
At midnight last night Deputy Chief Binns relinquished command of the firemen in charge of the wrecked building, and Battalion Chief Gray of the Bronx succeeded him. One of the first things Gray did was to go to the fourth floor at the Cedar Street side, where a company went to work at daylight, to take up the hunt for the missing body of Battalion Chief W. F. Walsh. Later in the morning, some of the firemen thought they saw a man's body in a heap of ice-coated wreckage, and a [hurry call] was sent down for reinforcements. Chief Kenlon took them up himself, and with Father McGean, one of the Department chaplains, and Gray, took charge of the search. The report got about the city that Walsh's body had been found, and soon the telephones in all the buildings in the neighborhood were ringing with requests for information from all sources, including fire houses. But in a few minutes word filtered down to the street that the rescuers had been deceived. The "body" was only a piece of timber covered with ice.
"I don't think Walsh will he found for at least two days," said Gray. "The steel beams are so twisted that they are liable to fall [M a a y t l s s e.] and if the rescuers were working at such a time the death list would be increased."
When Gray was first approached by the Metropolitan Street Railway for authority to restore service, he refused the request, as had Binn the night before. Later, however, when the report of Randolph P. Miller, Building Superintendent, to Mr. McAneny, Borough President of Manhattan, was made public, the refusal of the street car company's request was rescinded. Miller said he did not think there was any immediate danger of the collapse of the walls of the Equitable building, nor did he fear the effects upon them of the vibration caused by passing cars and subway trains. His report, as [emplinoaten] of a verbal declaration yesterday, was as follows:
I have made a personal examination of the condition of the remaining outside walls of the Equitable building this afternoon, with reference to the safety of the streetcar traffic along Broadway. I am of the opinion that there need be no apprehension at any danger to passing street cars. I would, however, advise that pedestrian traffic and other vehicular traffic be prohibited, because of the possibility of the falling of small pieces of ice and building material, which, while it would not be sufficient to cause damage to the roof of a street car, might be serious for a person. The officials at the street railway company have assured me that they will keep a lookout for any [tannow aerassnlated aa the balldt] at that might be liable to fall in case of a thaw, and will take steps to remove such tea as seen as possible.
HEARINGS BY THE FIRE MARSHAL.
The hearing conducted by Fire Marshal Prial, regarding the origin of the Equitable fire, was concluded at Fire Headquarters in the afternoon. Sixteen witnesses had been summoned at last reports, and, with very few exceptions, their stories coincided. There remains only one witness of importance, Dominic [Rusae,] an employee of the Cafe Savarin, who was on duty at the hour the fire started. Before the conclusion of the hearings the Marshal said that he had determined to his satisfaction the cause of the fire. He is certain that it started in the booth of Philip O'Brien, a timekeeper at the Savarin, who was a witness yesterday, and admitted that he had lighted a match at five o'clock that morning to light the gas, and had then thrown it away while it was still burning.